My company “Aging Info USA” continues to go into corporations and provide a confidential employee “caregiving” survey. In this survey are approximately ten questions. These questions range anywhere from “are you caring for an aging loved one” to “do you feel you could discuss your caregiving challenges with your supervisor or HR department.” I’m always interested in that last one and notice that more times than not, employees are very apprehensive in discussing these issues with management.
This past week I came across an article entitled “Speak up or sneak around. Do You Tell Your Employer About Your Eldercare Duties?.” In this article they stated why most employees are reluctant to discuss these issues with their employers and how they can get help and support from management.
They say that many caregivers cut themselves off from a major source of potential stress relief by not talking about their caregiving role at the place where they spend most of their day: their workplace.
Here are some takeaways from the article.
Why we don’t talk about caregiving at work
Plenty of logical reasons motivate us to keep mum about helping mum (or dad, or a partner, or a grandparent). Not that they’re necessarily in our best interest. Example reasons:
- Denial: Not realizing at the outset how hairy caregiving usually gets, workers believe they can juggle everything just fine, thankyouverymuch, without anyone needing to know. Except for this: Caregiving almost always keeps getting hairier.
- Fear of being perceived as not giving 100 percent. In these times, especially, you want to look like a workhorse without distractions. * Except for this:* Life is full of distractions — and balancing acts. (Ask any working mom.)
- Reluctance to look like a “mama’s boy” or a “daddy’s girl,” rather than a professional. The nurturing image of caregiving is at direct odds with many workplace personas. Except for this: Almost all of us have mamas, daddys, and mates. Even the federal government, in Equal Employment Opportunity guidelines on best practices for dealing with caregivers, notes that it’s wrong to assume male workers don’t have significant caregiving responsibilities, or that women prefer that role.
- Ignorance. It simply never occurs to many workers that there may be benefits to speaking up. Except for this: There are!
Why we should talk about caregiving at work:
1. Employees are more apt to help their career than hurt it.
Being frank about the demands we’re facing provides a context for why employees might seem more stressed or leave early some days. Not whining and expecting others to do all our work. But without a good explanation, colleagues may chalk absences or distractions up to laziness or plain old bad performance. We must not let family matters sabotage responsibilities entirely. But there’s little upside to pretending they don’t exist.
2. We may discover practical resources that can help ease the caregiving burden.
HR may be able to plug employees into flextime arrangements, assistance programs (such as care provider referrals, geriatric assessments, support groups), educational programs (on, say, Alzheimer’s care or stress management), and even federally mandated family leave opportunities.
Employers should and are starting to realize that supporting caregiving employees helps them retain workers and get better work from them AND helps their bottom line.
3. Tapping into hidden crowdsourcing resources right under their nose.
Boomer caregiving has been called the new “problem that has no name” — the life-swamping issue everyone’s dealing with but nobody’s talking about. Mention “sick mom” or “dad has Alzheimer’s” and you may be surprised, and gratified, by the kindred-spirit co-workers who come forward with tips and “what I wish I’d knowns.”
4. Less stress comes with more emotional support.
Most workplaces are staffed by humans with parents and spouses (and, usually, warm hearts) of their own. Their moral support may come to mean more than you’d think. Plus there’s this: The very act of being candid removes a major stressor, the stress of being secretive.
5. Eldercare conversations ultimately help everyone.
You’re part of a vast shift in American culture. Wrestling with employees in regard to work and eldercare is a lot like the challenges once (and sometimes, still) faced by working mothers. The more we talk about the realities of the intersections of where life and work meet, the more likely we are to find solutions. And that benefits all workers and employers alike.
I believe these are crucial in maintaining a healthy workplace, especially in regard to open communication and engagement – while creating a “safe place” and an atmosphere of loyalty.